JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Notes

1. To summarize with one term the entire scope of avant-garde, experimental, and underground film in North America is problematic. However, my intentions here are not to lump together the distinct intentions and products of the numerous filmmakers working in these fields. Rather, I wish to suggest the presence of an overarching avant-garde cinema surrounding these works—a statement in agreement with many historians of avant-garde film (Sheldon Renan (1967), P. Adams Sitney (1972, 2002), A.L Rees (1999), etc.)—and to locate within that cinema several concerns that intersect those of the historical avant-garde. I am also here identifying North American avant-garde cinema, responding to the distinction between it and European avant-garde cinema made by Peter Wollen in “The Avant-Gardes: Europe and America.” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 14 (1981): 9-10. I want to treat the continuing accuracy of that distinction carefully, however, for it is itself historical, and unable to account for changes and exchanges in avant-garde filmmaking practices around the globe in the last thirty years. [return to text]

2. Scott McDonald, “Gentle Iconoclast: An Interview with David Gatten.” Film Quarterly 61.2 (2007): 37.

3.  See McDonald 36.

4. The use of “Secret History” here most likely connects Byrd’s work to another secret history, the Anecdota by Procopius. A historian, Procopius wrote works championing the Roman emperor Justinian. However, centuries after his death, historians discovered an additional writing, the Anecdota, which offered a damning portrayal of the emperor. In its early publications, this revisionist history was called The Secret History. See Daniel Mendelsohn, “God’s Librarians.” The New Yorker,January 3, 2011, accessed June 12, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/01/03/gods-librarians

5. Richard Schechner. “The Five Avant-Gardes or…or None?” The Twentieth-Century Performance Reader. Ed. Michael Huxley and Noel Witt. (New York: Routledge, 1996) 310.

6. Paul Mann. The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991) 8.

7. Though this notion is explored by several historians of the avant-garde, I am drawing here on Matei Calinescu’s lengthy history of the movement in Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1987) 95-150.

8. Huyssen, Andreas. “The Hidden Dialectic: The Avantgarde – Technology – Mass
Culture.” [1980] After the Great Divide. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986) 4. Cf. Calinescu 102.

9. The influence of anarchism on the avant-garde is discussed by Huyssen, who downplays the influence of Marxism on the movement, an influence more fully stressed by Calinescu (104-105 & 125-132).

10. Clement Greenberg. “The Avant-Garde and Kitsch” [1939]. Horizon: A Review of Literature and Art. April 1940. 256. Accessed June 12, 2015, http://www.unz.org/Pub/Horizon-1940apr-00255

11. Calinescu 117.

12. This is a simplification of Bürger’s argument in which it is important to note that a negation of the subsystem art does not equal a negation of bourgeois culture or ideology. However, as the subsystem of art is part of a larger social formation, its criticism works to enable a much larger self-criticism of bourgeois society. See Peter Bürger. Theory of the Avant-Garde [1974]. Trans. Michael Shaw. (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1984) 20-27.

13. Bürger 17-20.

14. Leslie Fiedler. “The Death of Avant-Garde Literature” [1964]. The Collected Essays of Leslie Fiedler. Vol. 2. (New York: Stein and Day, 1971) 454.

15. Cf. Mann 12-13.

16.  Greenberg 260-61.

17. The undermining of the avant-garde by its paradoxical inclusion in the society and traditions it sought to overturn is the subject of numerous historical accounts. A succinct account of its dissipation of the avant-garde into numerous neo-avant-garde movements in performance is offered by Schechner. A more theoretical account of the death of the avant-garde, and the critical value of that death, is offered in Mann’s book-length study. For a broad account of the avant-garde’s formations and theoretical doctrine, readers can also turn to Renato Poggioli’s seminal The Theory of the Avant-Garde [1962]. Trans. Gerald Fitzgerald. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1968).

18. I realize that the notion of grand narratives, or metanarratives as they identified in translations of Lyotard’s work, are complex social mechanisms, our responses to which forming part of Lyotard’s theorizing of postmodernism. See, for example, Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge [1979]. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984) 12. I am setting aside here Lyotard’s complex formation of this concept, and issues raised with the concept following its introduction, in favor of the suggestive reading of a cultural moment the concept offers, particularly with respect to our thinking about the continued efficacy of the avant-garde.

19. Calinescu 276.

20. For example, see David Gatten’s description of his work on his website, accessed June 12, 2015, http://www.davidgattenfilm.com

21. The various filmmaking techniques used by Gatten are discussed in detail in his interview with Scott MacDonald. [return to page 2]

22. Secret History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina was not actually published until 1841, when it was released in a collection of Byrd’s writings. Secret History of the Line did not see publication until 1929 when the North Carolina Historical Commission reprinted Byrd’s official account.

23. Carlo Ginzburg. “Microhistory: Two or Three Things That I Know about It.” Critical Inquiry 20.1 (1993): 10-12.

24. Ginzburg 12.

25. Ginzburg 15.

26. Ginzburg 24.

27. Ginzburg 32.

28. Ginzburg 33.

29. As the “Secret History” films progress, the microhistory of William Byrd is connected to other important components of American life, including the the Library of Congress, which may owe to the library established by Byrd, and thus the dissemination of knowledge in the New World.

30. Though difficult to discern in the film, in his interview with MacDonald, Gatten identifies the specific motivations revealed in each of these documents. The official document celebrates efficient tax collection and state administration while the unofficial version reveals the motivations to be the circumvention of trade tariffs. See MacDonald 40.

31. MacDonald discusses how Gatten uses of a mathematical formula to structure the optical printing of the splices, a further reference to structural film and other rigorously structured avant-garde cinema. It is unlikely, however, that one can discern the formula during view without prior knowledge of its existence. See MacDonald 37.

32. MacDonald 36.

33. Calinescu 124.

Works cited

Bürger, Peter. Theory of the Avant-Garde. Trans. Michael Shaw. Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

Byrd, William II. Secret History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North  Carolina. [1841] Raleigh, NC: N.C. Historical Commision, 1929.

Calinescu, Matei. Five Faces of Modernity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

Connor, Bruce. Marilyn Times Five. Film. 1973.

Conrad, Tony. The Flicker. Film. 1965.

Fiedler, Leslie. “The Death of Avant-Garde Literature.” The Collected Essays of Leslie  Fiedler. Vol. 2. New York: Stein and Day, 1971. 454-61.

Gatten, David. Secret History of the Dividing Line. Film. 2002.

Gatten, David. David Gatten Film. Website. http://www.davidgattenfilm.com/.

Ginzburg, Carlo. “Microhistory: Two or Three Things I Know About It.” Critical Inquiry  20.1 (1993): 10-35.

Greenberg, Clement. “The Avant-Garde and Kitsch” [1939]. Horizon: A Review of  Literature and Art. April 1940. 255-273.

Huyssen, Andreas. “The Hidden Dialectic: The Avantgarde – Technology – Mass  Culture.” [1980] After the Great Divide. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. 3-15.

Jacobs, Ken. Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son. Film. 1969.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. [1979] Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984.

Mann, Paul. The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde. Bloomington: Indiana University  Press, 1991.

MacDonald, Scott. “Gentle Iconoclast: An Interview with David Gatten.” Film Quarterly  61.2 (2007): 36-44.

Mendelsohn, Daniel. “God’s Librarians.” The New Yorker,January 3, 2011.

Rees, A.L. A History of Experimental Film and Video. Second Edition. London: BFI,  2011.

Renan, Sheldon. An Introduction to the American Underground Film. New York: E.P.  Dutton & Co., 1967.

Schechner, Richard. “The Five Avant-Gardes or…or None?” The Twentieth-Century  Performance Reader. Ed. Michael Huxley and Noel Witt. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Sharits, Paul. Ray Gun Virus. Film. 1965.

Sitney, P. Adams. Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde 1943-2000. Third Edition.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Stewart, George R. Pickett’s Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Attack at Gettysburg,  July 3, 1863. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1959.

Poggioli, Renato. The Theory of the Avant-Garde. [1962] Trans. Gerald Fitzgerald.  Cambridge, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968.

Wollen, Peter. “The Avant-Gardes: Europe and America.” Framework: The Journal of  Cinema and Media 14 (1981): 9-10.